One thing that has jumped out to me about the Daniels story is that she seems to have much better representation now than she did in October 2016. Back then her lawyer was Keith M. Davidson, a lawyer who apparently came her way through her then-manager, Gina Rodriguez. I had read earlier that he was a go-to lawyer for Rodriguez who is known for repping people who come to fame through scandals of various sorts. When I read the agreement, I couldn’t help but note that it reads as almost comically adverse to Daniels and for what in the context seemed like a relatively small sum of money.
My assumption was she had a low rent lawyer who either wasn’t that good or didn’t care. But then I noticed something this evening. In the final days of the 2016 campaign, The Wall Street Journal published a story about Karen McDougal, a former Playboy Playmate who claimed she had an affair with Trump and sold her story to The National Enquirer for $150,000. But the story never ran. They treated it as a ‘catch and kill’ story, buying it up to cover it up. So who represented McDougal? Keith M. Davidson.
That struck me as quite odd. So I did some digging. It turns out it’s not terribly surprising. The Post refers to Davidson as a lawyer “known for ‘pre-litigation’ agreements, settlements intended to be sure that damaging allegations never see the light of day.” His firm website reads: “Classic Problems, Modern Solutions. We thrive navigating through the difficult, the complex and the discrete affairs of our select clientelle (sic).” So he all but advertisers himself as being in this line of work.
Indeed, some quick Googling and Nexising show Davidson has been involved with an almost comical number of cases involving sex tapes, hush money agreements, and sex scandals. Davidson was directly involved in legal and/or money negotiations over a gay sex tape with Charlie Sheen, a woman who had an encounter with Ashton Kutcher, a sex tape tied to Austin Powers “mini-me” Verne Troyer. Most notably, it was Davidson who was hawking the Hulk Hogan sex tapes which eventually led to the bankruptcy of Gawker. He was actually investigated, though never charged, for extortion in that case. The FBI actually ran a sting operation against Davidson tied to his hawking the Hogan tape.
I had never seen Davidson’s ubiquity in the Trump hush money business noted or discussed. But as I found while looking further, I’m not the first to make it. Molly Redden actually wrote a whole story about it in New York. What’s not clear to me is whether anyone has revisited Davidson’s role since the Daniels’ story and the many oddities of her agreement have been exposed to scrutiny in recent days. In any case, this is Davidson’s racket: find (mainly) women with stories about (mainly) wealthy men, negotiate settlements and get a nice contingency fee. But there are a few indications that it may be a bit murkier.
A month ago, Ronan Farrow wrote a story about Karen McDougal. He also notes Daniels’ had the same attorney. But the story is about McDougal. In the story, Farrow describes how McDougal’s then-boyfriend first had the idea of trying to sell McDougal’s story. He reached out to a friend who’d worked in adult films in the past. This person (who sounds like it might have been Rodriguez) put him in touch with Davidson. Here’s the passage …
That friend, Crawford recalled, was “like a hobo on a ham sandwich” and contacted an attorney named Keith M. Davidson, who also had contacts in the adult-film industry and ties to media companies, including A.M.I. Davidson had developed a track record of selling salacious stories.
That’s interesting. A.M.I is the parent company of The National Enquirer, the company that would eventually purchase and kill McDougal’s story in a negotiation she says she found exploitative. On the one hand, that’s a logical business relationship if you’re in the scandal and sex tape business. But remember, Davidson’s business seems to making these stories go away for money.
Here’s another oddity. At one point in that Molly Redden story Davidson is trying to demonstrate his bona fides as a reputable lawyer.
Davidson and his spokesman invited me to call some of his legal adversaries, who would back him up. His spokesman’s first suggestion, it turns out, was none other than Michael D. Cohen, the personal attorney for President Trump who handled the Stormy Daniels payment. “Keith Davidson … is a tireless advocate for his clients,” Cohen wrote in an email. “In each and every interaction I’ve ever had with him, he has always been professional, ethical and a true gentleman.”
Lawyers on opposites sides of negotiations offer carry on amicable, professional relationships. They can even be good friends. But given the overall circumstances, this bit of information made me wonder. As I’ve written in a few other posts, the Daniels’ agreement seems almost comically adverse to Daniels. Was Davidson zealously representing Daniels’ interests in that negotiation? Farrow’s story about McDougal doesn’t make it seem like she had a great experience with Davidson. She and her friends described the process to Farrow as “exploitative.” Did Davidson know the Enquirer never planned to publish her story? As I’ve also noted, it seems clear that it was Cohen and Trump’s plan from the start that Donald Trump would never sign the agreement with Stormy Daniels. Was Davidson aware of this or take steps to secure Trump’s signature when it wasn’t forthcoming?
I will note that Davidson was representing Daniels about her relationship with Trump as far back as 2011. And he suggested that at the time he was in touch with the Trump organization about whether they approved of his work for her. From The Smoking Gun …
Davidson said that “to the best of my recollection” he contacted a representative of the Trump Organization and that “they did not object to my attempts to remove the story.” He added that his work for Clifford was limited to the publication of The Dirty story and that he did not “take part in any negotiation with my client and Mr. Trump.” A photo of Clifford–captioned “Stormy Daniels. Actress”–is on the “Representative clients” page of Davidson’s web site.
That seems odd to me. Did he have a line of communication with Michael Cohen back in 2011?
When Daniels first filed her lawsuit last week I was one of the first to note that it sounds like the agreement might be intended to cover up “dick pics” or either compromising digital evidence of the affair. Yesterday, I reported that Daniels apparently suggested to 60 Minutes that President Trump likes being mistreated or denigrated in sexual contexts. In their most recent communication with Trump’s lawyers, Daniels’ team significantly ups the ante, for the first time suggesting the existence not only of texts and images but possibly “videos relating to the President which she may have in possession.” Let’s call this ‘Stormymat’.
We should note that according to the October 2016 agreement, Daniels should have divested herself of all ownership rights and physical possession of all this material. Texts, pictures, videos, all forms of Stormymat. It wouldn’t be terribly surprising if she didn’t. It also wouldn’t be terribly surprising that her team is simply raising this possibility to sow terror in the Trump camp and keep them off balance. For now, it seems worth considering that this material does exist and that she has it. We should also be considering the distinct possibility that these negotiation processes themselves were not entirely on the up and up. This is a sleazy world – not the assignations and affairs but the operators who cover up the evidence – and one that seldom gets exposed to anything remotely like serious press scrutiny.